Michael R. by Sisak | The Associated Press
New York – A series of prisoners’ deaths. CellBlock without protection. Huge shortage of staff due to AWOL guards. Deprived detainees of food and medical care.
Troubled by years of neglect, New York City’s infamous Rikers Island prison complex has plunged into turmoil during the coronavirus pandemic. Not only prisoners and lawyers are saying this. City officials, including the mayor, agree that there are serious problems here.
One prison watchdog called it “a complete stop in the operation of prisons”.
“In our 50 years of office monitoring city prisons, this is one of the most dangerous times we have seen,” said Mary Lynn Verlavas, an attorney and director of the Prisoners Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society.
At one point during the summer, more than a third of the city’s prison guards – about 3,050 out of 8,500 – were on sick leave or medically to work with inmates, according to the Department of Corrections, the agency that runs the city’s prisons. were completely ineligible. Some guards are missing from the shift without any explanation.
The escalating crisis, brought to light in recent weeks by advocates, news reports and a federal monitor who wrote about “serious concerns” with the city’s prisons, has prompted officials amid plans to close Rikers by 2026. Scrambled for treatment.
Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled reforms this week requiring absentee guards to receive a doctor’s note if they’re out for more than a day, speeding up prisoner recruitment processes and things like broken cell doors. Including fixing infrastructure problems.
On Wednesday, city jail guards began suspending jail guards without pay for 30 days for refusing to come to work. Last week, the city said staffing conditions were so dire that it was listing a telemarketing company to entice recently retired correctional officers to return to work.
Advocates, lawmakers and even a union of prison guards say the measures are not enough to fix a system where 10 inmates have died this year, at least five in suspected suicides.
Advocates want the prisoners to be released immediately. Some say that recursions should be stopped immediately.
Lawmakers who visited the Rikers complex this week said it was dirty and inhumane, with overflowing toilets and floors covered with dead cockroaches, feces and rotting food. State Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas said the prisoners told her they felt they were being treated like slaves and animals.
Meanwhile, the union has said that hiring more guards is the answer and that the suspension will leave the remaining officers working “three more quadruple shifts with no food and no rest.”
“The mayors can’t discipline their way out of this staffing crisis, which they refused to hire for nearly three years, even a single corrections officer,” said Benny Bossio Jr., president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association. Even the prisoner population had doubled.” .
In fact, the city’s prison population has increased by about 58%, topping 6,000 inmates at the end of last week, after falling from 3,900 inmates as bail reforms took effect, arrests slowed And some prisoners were sent home early in the pandemic. In addition, the city’s prison commissioner Vincent Shiraldi said on Monday that the city has authorized the hiring of at least 200 corrections officers.
De Blasio has blamed the virus-related court backlog for the increase and called on judges to use supervised release instead of prison for those accused of nonviolent crimes. He wants the state’s prison system to transfer recursively sentenced prisoners within five days and joined advocates and lawmakers in calling on the government’s Kathy Hochul to sign a bill that would overhaul the parole system.
Most of the city’s prison inmates are being held for trial or on parole violations.
Problems in recursion are not new. The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported on past concerns including violence, death, sexual assault and abuse of mentally ill prisoners.
“This place has taken too long to mess up. It has been neglected here for decades,” said prison commissioner Shiraldi from June. “I call it the junkyard of the criminal justice system.”
Prisoners wallow in a single intake unit for days without basic medical attention, such as getting their blood sugar checked, and unable to call relatives, lawmakers and advocates.
The prisoners beat the guard and each other fiercely. In July, a prisoner threw excrement at the prison’s captain. A guard was killed by a prisoner in August.
In March, in a secure and closely monitored mental health monitoring unit, officials said one inmate managed to kill himself.
“These conditions are not responding to the pandemic crisis that hit prisons just 17 months ago,” Varlavas said. “This is a serious and significant deterioration in the most basic security and operation of our prisons.”
The prison’s federal watchdog, Steve J. Martin, said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Laura Swain in August that the deteriorating conditions in the city’s prisons — escalating violence, self-harm, death and use of force by guards — were directly tied to an April Spike in “excessive and unneeded staff absenteeism”.
The guards who appeared said they were forced to work double and triple shifts, leading the union to sue the city for what they called “inhumane” working conditions. Some housing units had no guards, Martin said, and some Rikers prisoners were able to access off-limits areas that were considered highly secure.
The five suspected suicides among riders this year are the most since 2005. Three inmates have died in the past five weeks. One of them, 25-year-old Brandon Rodriguez, had been there for a week. Another, 24-year-old Esias Johnson, who died on September 7, was a month into his stay.
State Senator Jessica Ramos said lawmakers who visited Rikers on Monday saw a man trying to kill himself.
“Everything goes back to the Rikers Island problem,” de Blasio said. “We need to get the hell out of us as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we have huge challenges ahead.”
Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.